Bradford, RI Train Wreck, Apr 1916


Coroner Starts a Secret Investigation and Federal Officials Are at Work.


Engineer and Towerman Give Different Versions of the Accident.

Special to The New York Times.

BRADFORD, R. I., April 18.---Five passengers are dead as a result of the train wreck on the New Haven Railroad here last night, it was definitely established today. Four were burned to death, crying for help and struggling to extricate themselves, while rescuers tried to fight through the wreckage and flame to free them. The fifth died of injuries on the way to a hospital at new London.

Only fragments of the burned bodies have been recovered, and one of the victims has not been identified positively. Bits of burned clothing established that one of the bodies was that of Miss Jeannette Clark, daughter of William Clark, Westerly agent for the American Thread Company and President of the Westerly Light and Power Company.

A blackened key found on one of the bodies was taken from the morgue at Westerly back to Bradford this afternoon and tried on the lock of the residence of Thomas Boardman, former manager of the Bradford Dyeing Association, who had been on the local train, on which all the deaths occurred. The key opened his door, adding confirmation to the belief that he was one of the dead.

At Kelly's morgue in Westerly one of the bodies was identified as that of E. P. Barber, a carpenter, of 6 Pleasant Street, Westerly, but a list of the injured later given out by the railroad asserted that Barber had been located and was severely injured. Another body was identified as that of Howard Partelo of Westerly, a New Haven fireman.

Mrs. Oscar Martell of Southbridge, Mass., the fifth victim, was carried from the wreck with both arms and legs broken and died in an automobile on the way to a hospital.

Mrs. W. A. Bliss of 407 East 123d Street, New York, who was on some of he lists of dead, was only slightly injured. She went to the home of Mrs. Mary O'Toole in Westerly, and her absence started a rumor that she was dead.

Of the twenty-eight on the list of the injured, the only ones reported in danger tonight were Mrs. Elizabeth Hogg of Westerly and James E. Ackland of 1,422 Fifty-fourth Street, Brooklyn.

Coroner Everett Kingsley started the first investigation today into the cause of the accident, of which two conflicting versions are given.

Engineer Charles Mansfield of the Gilt Edge Express, which crashed into the rear of a local train on the main track in the station here, says that the distance signal east of here indicated that he had a clear track, and that when it was too late to stop in time to prevent a collision he suddenly saw through the fog the signal of the flagman, the danger light on the home signal tower, and the red lights on the rear of the local train.

Henry F. McCluskey, the towerman, who was in the tower at the time, asserts that he set the distance signal at caution, and that the accident was caused by the failure of the engineer to observe this signal and the danger warning of the flagman. McCluskey adhered to this story when he was called before Coroner Kingsley at a secret investigation this afternoon. Engineer Mansfield and other witnesses will be called tomorrow.

In answer to a question, Coroner Kingsley said today that far from acting at the suggestion of New Haven railroad officials in making the inquiry secret, he had acted against officials of the road, who were anxious to be represented at the inquiry and know what testimony was elicited.

Federal Investigation Is On.

It was learned today that H. W. Belnap, Chief of the Safety Bureau of the Interstate Commerce Commission, would go to the scene of the wreck on Thursday and start an official investigation into the circumstances surrounding the collision. Another investigation will be held by the Public Utilities Commission of Rhode Island. One of the principal bojuects of the inquiry will be to discover whether, through defect in th signaling apparatus of the railroad, the cautionary signal failed to work after the towerman attempted to set it. F. A. Howard of Springfield and J. P. McArdle of Worcester have been sent here by the Interstate Commerce Commission and are already making an inquiry.

At the close of an official report of the wreck by General Manager C. L. Bardo, in which the conflicting statements of the towerman and the engineer are set forth, the record of the engineer is given as follow:

"Mansfield was promoted in 1887, and, aside from six entries, the last of which was in 1910, has a clear record. He has been running passenger trains between New York and Boston for years and has been on Trains 2 and 13 (the Gilt-Edge Express) approximately six months."

McCluskey had held the position of towerman at Bradford for a month.

Those who saw the wreck praised the coolness with which Mansfield acted after the collision.

The locomotive of the express train penetrated for twelve feet the rear end of the local, so that the front of the locomotive was hooded by wreckage from the wooden rear coach of the local. The smashing of gas lamps in the coach spread fire instantly through the coach and over the locomotive, the cab itself catching fire. Using a fire extinguisher, Mansfield put out the flames in the cab and then started to back out, the locomotive dragging with a yoke of smashed and burning woodwork which covered the stack and all the forward part of the boiler.

The rear end of the last car of the local had been jammed. The floor, sides, and top were crumpled. Most of the passengers in the car were caught and held by masses of wood and ironwork of the seats in which they were sitting, and the seats just ahead of them. Only two passengers in the rear car escaped these traps and were able to scramble toward the front door, when fire from the gas lamps began to spread to the debris.

Several men, who made their way into the car from the outside, helped them to get out. The first to be extricated were Mrs. Mary O'Toole and Mrs. W. A. Bliss, who were freed when John Thompson, a special officer of the Bradford Dyeing Association, wrenched away the woodwork of their seats.

Lose In Race With Flames.

Thompson and others rescued a man in the same way, while Mrs. O'Toole and Mrs. Bliss tugged at the collar of a man whose legs were caught by two seats which had sprung on him like a beartrap. The men who had entered the car tried to haul him out by the arms, but could not.

Meanwhile the flames were gaining and the rescuers ran out for axes and crowbars. At the same time other men were trying to chip their way through the sides of the car to make rescues. Through one of the windows Miss Janet Clark, who was well known in Bradford, could be seen screaming for aid while flames gained on her. One man, whose legs were gripped in the wreckage of the floor and seats, had forced the upper part of his body through a hole made in the side of the car at the time of the collision. An axe was handed through to him and other axes went to work from the outside. A little more time would have made these rescues possible, but an explosion occurred below the floor of the car, probably the explosion of a gas tank. In a few seconds the interior of the car was ablaze from one end to the other,. Those on the outside could hear the shrieks for a few seconds, but could give no aid.

Persons in the two forward cars of the local were thrown about and bruised by the collision, but none was seriously hurt. Those on the express train escaped with slight bruises.

The New York Times, New York, NY 19 Apr 1916